Donald Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary under President George W. Bush, said Wednesday that the Obama administration allowed the mission in Libya to become "confused" because America did not take the lead in determining a course of action.
"I've always believed that the mission should determine the coalition," he told Politico. Instead, Rumsfeld said, America let coalition partners in Europe dictate the mission.
Ideally, he added, "you decide what it is you want to do and then you get other countries to assist you in doing that." But in Libya, he said, "the opposite was done," leaving the mission "confused."
"If peoples' lives are at risk and you're using military forces, you need to have a rather clear understanding as to who's in charge and who's making the decisions," said Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld is not the first to raise questions about the nature of the mission in Libya. The United States maintains that it is confined to providing humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people, in conjunction with a United Nations resolution - and does not include replacing Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. But the administration has sent mixed signals, as have some coalition partners. The White House insists the mission is limited in scope and says that the United States will hand over command responsibility within days.
Rumsfeld comments are notable in part because they evoke memories of his involvement in another U.S. offensive derided as having an unclear mission - the current war in Iraq, which just passed its eight year anniversary. While the Bush administration first said the primary mission was about eliminating the risk posed by weapons of mass destruction, it later maintained that the United States was in Iraq to free the Iraqi people from a tyrannical leader.
His comments also underline the difference in approach between the Bush administration - which reached out to the international community but did not achieve wide consensus before entering Iraq, and cast America as the clear leader in the operation - and the Obama administration, which has cast itself as a coalition partner working in Libya and an equal in the international community.
Rumsfeld also suggested to Politico that the reason Mr. Obama did not go to Congress before authorizing the military action in Libya is because he didn't have a clear sense of his mission.
"If you went to Congress and asked for authorization to do something, you'd have to know what it was you wanted to do and you had to have decided before the fact with some precision and some clarity, as to what the mission would be," he said.